Rail transportation is key to the socio economic development of any country. Apart from the fact that it is one of the most important and a very cost effective mode of moving passengers and goods over long and short distances, it is also relatively safer when compared to some other means of transportation.
In Nigeria, the construction of railways commenced from the Lagos Colony to Ibadan in March 1896 by the Colonial British Government. However, railway operations took off in March 1901 and was extended to Mina in 1911, where it met the Barro-Kano railway station that was built by the then Government of Northern Nigeria between 1907 and 1911.
Between 1913 and 1916, the eastern railway was built to Port Harcourt following the discovery of coal at Udi, the railway was extended to Kaduna in 1927.
On 1st October 1960 when Nigeria had her independence from the Great Britain there was operational railways linking the Eastern, Western and Northern Regions. It is gratifying to note that the railway system in the country received a boost in 1987 when the then administration of President Ibrahim Babangida initiated the construction of Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Railline primarily for the transportation of Iron ore to Ajaokuta and Alaja Steel Rolling Mills as well as the movement of processed steel to the Warri port.
Sadly, not much work was done on the project until the return of democracy in 1999. In 2009 the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan redesigned the Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Railline project to include passenger services.
Besides, that administration also accorded much attention to the reconstruction of existing railways following years of neglect as the only operational segment of the Nations railway network as early as 2014 was between Lagos and Kano.
Considering the socio economic importance of the 326 kilometer Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Rail line to the country, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was committed for the speedy completion of the project. And Finally, on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 President Muhammadu Buhari virtually commissioned the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail-line project and named it after former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
This perhaps was why the people of the region notably Delta and Edo states rolled out their drums to thank President Muhammadu Buhari when he inaugurated the 326km Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Rail line for commercial operation and the railway artillery facility yard at Goodluck Jonathan railway complex Owa recently.
The elated Governor of Delta State Ifeanyi Okowa was full of commendation for President Buhari for his Bi-partisan approach to governance which he said engendered the completion of the rail project after 33 years.
According to the Governor the rail line has strong potentials for stimulating socio-economic activities, kick start small scale businesses, rejuvenating rural economies and bringing succor to low income earners in the post Covid-19 Pandemic era.
The Completion of the rail line undoubtedly will boost the Nation’s economy particularly the economies of the South-South states as the Minister of Transportation – Rotimi Amechi hinted that each of the railway stations were located in the region.
The Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for naming the railway stations and railway villages after some deserving Nigerians who have distinguished themselves at Nation building and development. Some of which include the Adamu Attah Station Itapke, Abubakar Olushola Saraki Station Ajaokuta, Goodluck Jonathan Railway Complex Owa, David Ejoh Station Abraka and the Micheal Opkara Station among others.
With the commercial operation of the Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Rail line, there is the need for state Governments in the region to collaborate with the Federal Government to extend the rail line to industrial zones. Already the Edo State Governor Mr. Godwin Obasake has appealed to the Federal Government to extend the Itapke – Ajaokuta – Warri Rail line to the industrial park in Benin.
It is gratifying to know that President Buhari has approved to extend the project from Itapke to Abuja thereby connecting the Northern Zone of the Country and also extending southwards to link the Warri ports.
Undoubtedly, the rail line extensions will open up many communities and also ease the plights of commuters as well as movement of raw materials and finished goods. There is therefore the compelling need for the States and Federal Governments to partner with the private sector in establishing cottage industries at adjoining communities especially in areas where rail stations are located.